SUGAR SYMPOSIUM: SUGAR WITHOUT EMOTION

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May I say first that I’m speaking on my own behalf. I look at this sugar business without any emotion, without any heat, without any rancour. I know that sugar has been a political crop; it is a crop that has been associated with slavery. We think of people being whipped, we think of people being maimed and people being killed, we think of slave ships, we think of brutal treatment, of segregation of families, and all that has gone with slavery; and somehow this has over hanged the sugar industry. And I think if we scratch each of us living in an emancipated ex-colonial territory we will find that whenever the subject of sugar comes up it is this memory of all that has taken place which conditions, to a certain extent, our thinking. Unfortunately slavery has been with us but it has gone and we have now to rise above it.

And we now have to ask a very simple question and this is how I look at it: Jamaica has a certain number of people in the labour force, some of these people with an element of kill, some semi-skilled, and some with no kills; and the very simple question which we have to ask ourselves is what combination of this labour and with such capital as we can find within and without the country will give us the maximum return for our endeavours? This is the very simple question which we have to ask. And if in answer to that question we find that sugar provides us with the return, which no alternative uses of the land, labour and capital will equal, then we would be foolish if we decide that because of the past sugar should be scrapped.

Now I would make one comment on Mr. Brewster’s statement. It is that he has proceeded on the basis of the analysis in absolute terms of one single industry and of one single commodity. Now, it is well known in the scientific approach, that if this method is proceeded with, then you arrive at no conclusion because to proceed you must have some frame of reference, some basic objective, some base line within which you make your comparison. For example, it is true that the purchasing power of the foreign exchange earned by sugar declined over the period that he has quoted; but, it is also true that the purchasing power of all of Jamaica’s exports decline in terms of imports and if we look at our terms of trade, we will find that between 1957 and 1968 if we used the index of 1957 in 1968, this has declined to 74. Now this is not just sugar but this is the entire economy. And to arrive at a rational conclusion as to what we should do we must ask ourselves what are the alternative uses which will give us a superior return.

I take the same attitude towards foreign exchange if the impression is given that there is something disgraceful, there is something terrible in not producing something that you use directly. Now if you follow this to its logical conclusion, you go back to a period of self-suffciency in which isolated groups in a tribal society tried to provide things for themselves completely within their own environment. Now in the whole study (the whole science) of economics one of the main tenets has been to show that you can by indirect means achieve a higher standard of consumption by means of the division of labour. By this division of labour, whether it be national or international, and by a means of exchange a higher return and a higher degree of consumption can be obtained. So that here in the matter of foreign exchange, there is nothing wrong with planting sugar and eating flour in exchange, if in fact this process enable us to enjoy a higher standard of living.

So that the small and minute contribution that I make, Mr. Chairman, is that we cannot analyse sugar in isolation. Mr. Brewster himself has said we have to discover whether we are utilizing our resources to the maximum advantage by utilizing 170,000 acres in the production of sugar.

One final point I make is this, if we proceed on the basis that all our resources are now being utilized, the analysis will be quite different from one in which we discover that our resources in fact are not all being utilized. We have vast under-utilized resources of both land and labour. And we should ask ourselves very seriously whether in that context when we have under employment of both land and labour, that we should seek to dispossess areas which are now fully occupied; or whether as a priority of policy it should not be that we seek to bring into production those resources–both human and natural-which are now underutilized. Because it seems to me that if we can add to the existing food rather than substitute it, then the result should be that we should all be better off.

 

 

G. Arthur Brown is Governor of the Bank of Jamaica and Economic Advisor to the Government of Jamaica.